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Issue 10 - The true taste of scotland

Scotland Magazine Issue 10
September 2003


This article is 15 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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The true taste of scotland


Travelling around distilleries in Scotland provides a great way of getting to know the country. For they are situated near the borders and as far north as the Orkney Isles with outposts on both the east and west coasts and on some Hebridean Isles.

But there is so much more to see when touring and by linking distillery visits to different themes provides a real insight into the country.

Scotland’s history is full of myths and ghostly legends. Tracking them down can be fascinating, and many of the stories relate to strange happenings at whisky distilleries.

On a winter’s night when the wind races the clouds across the sky and the moon struggles to shine you can imagine the gibbet standing tall at the cross-roads near Gallow Crook and see the poor thief hanging from the gallows.

This is the home of Glen Moray distillery situated on the old road into Elgin where executions took place until the end of the 1600s.

Leaving southwards from Glen Moray your next stop might be Glen Grant. In 1894 Major James Grant came back from Africa to take over his family distillery. He returned with a young orphan, Biawa Makalanga known as Bye-way.

After leaving school Bye-way worked as James’ butler. He survived the major by some 40 years and was buried in Rothes.

In 1978 his ghost was seen in Glenrothes distillery. Why did Bye-way choose this distillery and not Glen Grant his former home?

The answer may be that during work at Glenrothes, a ley line, which ran from Rothes Castle to the cemetery, had been broken. The damage to the ley line was repaired and the ghost of Bye-way has not been seen since.

Maybe pursuing ghosts is not your hobby, but your interest leans more towards Scotland’s writers?

If so, following whisky locations provides a platform for this too.

The most famous poet has to be Robert Burns. There cannot be anyone in the English speaking world who hasn’t sung Auld Lang Syne at least once.

He started life as a farmer, but soon became an excise man collecting taxes from distillers in Dumfriesshire. His long hours in the saddle gave him ample opportunity to dream up poems and many feature ‘John Barleycorn’ or whisky.

Visitors to Edinburgh will know the Scott Monument on Princes Street. Edinburgh provides an ideal base for the Lothians and Border country, which Sir Walter Scott loved and wrote about.

Many of the places and houses he mentions can be seen today. Whilst in Edinburgh, a visit to The Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre is a
must and a trip around Lothian and Border could also include a visit to Glenkinchie distillery, which has a small museum on the history of distilling.

Lewis Grassic Gibbon wrote about the country he knew and loved on the north east coast and visitors to Fettercairn distillery will be rewarded with views of fields and grazing cattle much as he knew it in the 1930s.

His most famous work is A Scots Quair – a trilogy. His heroine, Chris Guthrie, represents renewal and survival and a return to the land over several decades.

No child should grow up without a bit of magic and the author J M Barrie clearly agreed with this sentiment when he wrote Peter Pan. His birthplace in Kirremiur, Angus can be visited and provides an insight into how he and his family lived in the 1860s.

Pursuing this idea of linking distillery visits with special themed tours, Distillery Destinations has planned some for 2004.

The first is called ‘Whisky, Wars and Castles’ providing visitors with the romance of northern Scotland’s ancient history, fierce battles and renowned castle architecture from ruins to fairytales. The accompanied tour includes a special tasting with a Distillery Destinations director.

The second tour follows in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson’s ancestors – the great lighthouse builders.

Visitors will have the chance to see famous lighthouses on the Mull of Kintyre, on Islay and western Scotland near Oban with, of course, a little whisky on the way. Lectures and tastings from experts complete this special experience.

Other themed tours can include enjoying Scotland’s gardens and wildlife, gourmet meals or exploring the whisky islands (another definite one for 2004) or perhaps a chance to try out cookery courses. Not to mention the obvious golf and fishing too.

There are good air links from Europe into Edinburgh and Glasgow, from major airlines and from the newer budget carriers.

Whatever you decide to do forward planning of itineraries is the most important part of a successful Scottish tour. Don’t forget how long it takes to go from one place to another, and don’t be deceived by how small things seem on the map.

However, within Scotland itself there are good flight connections from the main cities to the north and the islands which can help minimise travelling time.

Excellent ferry services also operate to islands with whisky connections allowing visitors to use their cars.

Even for people who say they do not like whisky, going around a distillery is fascinating and it is worth spending time learning about the different stages of production and appreciating the vast array of aromas and tastes.

Distillery visitor centres have changed a great deal in the past 10 years, so there are sometimes good cafes and pretty gardens as well as exhibition areas and well-stocked shops to make a visit more enjoyable.

And of course, the opportunity to taste the individual single malts.